KANBrief 1/15

Standards development: operators' involvement essential

Work equipment provided to employees must assure their protection against impermissible hazards. The requirements to be met for the CE conformity of many items of work equipment are supported by harmonized standards. The closer operators are involved in the development of standards, the more relevant the standards are to industrial practice and the more efficiently users are able to procure safe work equipment.

In the sphere of legislation governing product safety and the use of work equipment at workplaces in the European Union, the New Approach and the New Legislative Framework have created fundamentally harmonized requirements for work equipment. These requirements have however been kept abstract, in order to provide the parties involved with greater flexibility in their business activities. The required safety level can consequently be assured in a number of ways, and the most economic solution selected. The fact that the safety level is not always defined unambiguously however makes procurement and risk assessment of the technology a major challenge, particularly for smaller businesses.

Many items of work equipment are fully or partly subject to EU directives governing CE marking. For companies, harmonized standards are a useful instrument for reducing the overhead of producing purchasing specifications and at the same time ensuring that employees are well protected against hazards presented by work equipment. This is also reflected by the fact that requirements concerning use of the work equipment are also increasingly being specified in the non-harmonized parts of the standards.

However, standards can be of high quality and can give consideration to these requirements of the operators only when the latter are involved in sufficient numbers in the standardization process. RWE's experience suggests that involvement in the work of the standards committees should not be left to industry associations and the statutory accident insurance institutions alone. These are important stakeholders in the standardization process, but are not generally an adequate substitute for operators and their expertise and particular practical experience. RWE has therefore delegated members of staff with considerable practical experience to work on certain standards committees. This enables the experience of operators to be input during the formulation of detailed requirements for technical safety and the subsequent practical procedures, where governed by standards. Examples are the product standards for steam generators, parts of equipment and materials handling systems, and electrical engineering standards.

Who regulates what?

It can be seen clearly that national arrangements governing OSH are increasingly being flanked by provisions found in the non-harmonized parts of these standards. This duplication of provisions can be expected to prompt discussion of the appropriate context for formulation of these requirements, and whether for example they should be made part of national regulatory arrangements (such as the TRBS - Technical rules for industrial safety in Germany). These questions will have to be addressed by all stakeholders.

Standards enhance efficiency

Purchasers who prefer to define their technical occupational safety and health requirements solely in their ordering specifications must generally anticipate significantly higher costs for the procurement of safe work equipment. Where they can avail themselves of standards in which these requirements are at least partly defined, purchasers can reduce their costs. In addition, purchasers formulating specific requirements must anticipate higher outlay for the supervision of construction and assembly work, since suppliers will frequently charge a premium owing to the additional work entailed by specific requirements, partly owing to their lack of experience with them.

High-quality harmonized European standards which also give consideration to the safety and health of workers at work constitute an opportunity for all operators to attain the required level of technical safety very efficiently. In view of the high cost pressure, all operators will in future face a major challenge of assuring adequate involvement in the growing scale of standardization of services and activities.

Bernhard Hoffmann